The Blog

Top 10 Tips on Starting a B2B Business

Freddie Ossberg, Founder and CEO of Raconteur Media and winner of Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2010, gives tips on putting your business plans into action

1. Don't over complicate the business plan or the vision for the business: most business plans work on paper but it's the people behind the idea that make the difference between success and failure.

2. Break-even early: many inexperienced business people have unrealistic expectations as to the break-even. It might seem pragmatic - modest even - to not expect to break-even too early on. However, you should never plan your break-even to be too far ahead, as the chances are that your business, will be dead by then.

3. Be an industry market specialist: There's a saying, in order to know the future, you must understand the past. When it comes to a startup business, the management team must truly know its sector inside out: the trends and historic patterns and all the PESTLE - political, economic, social, technological, legal and environmental - factors that can affect your business position.

4. If more than one founder - have a shareholders' agreement in place from day one: it should solidify everything from how to solve strategic decision making to specifying the process of founders exiting the business. Be brutally cynical upfront and plan for all eventualities so that in the event of stasis or even disagreement that there is an agreed and dispassionate path to follow.

5. Install a board from day one: preferably with an experienced Chairman who can help drive the business forward and create a "discipline culture" amongst the management team. As Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, notes, a disciplined culture is one that is rigorous, but not ruthless, about its people, its thinking and its actions, and that the rigour must start at the top.

6. Assemble a team of highly-skilled operators that buy-in into the vision: When you begin you are 100% of the business' output, and thus it is crucial that employee 1, 2 and 3 are excellent hires with the right mix of complementary skills so that you can not only cover all the ground you need to, but can do so with the confidence that you have skilled representation and can leave others to do their job.

7. Make sure that the majority of staff early on are revenue generating: sales is the lifeblood of any business, not least when you are starting from zero. You do need to have excellent administrative and financial staff, but without sales coming in, there will be very little for them to administrate or count!

8. Decide your economic engine: figure out what is driving the business forward whether it be revenue per employee or profit per customer or some other ratio. The trick is to pick one, any ratio that can act as an economic denominator and focus the business. This gives you a very simple way to track the health of your business and not lose sight of what really makes the difference and where you really need to move the needle.

9. Culture eats strategy for breakfast: Belief and commitment to excellence are the two main ingredients you need to be successful, so work tirelessly on setting up such a culture. Everyone who works for you will consciously or unconsciously take their cue on what is expected and accepted from you, so it is vital that not only are you setting the tone in the right way, and that in doing so you are being true to yourself, as it will be impossible to sustain if not. You should also never ask your employees to do something you are not willing to do yourself.

10. Be single minded about success: what is true for all businesses, but in particular the B2B business sector, is that there always an opportunity to grab market share - you just have to be slicker and more determined than existing providers. Whatever you offer, you will succeed if you can either persuade prospects that you have an answer to a problem they didn't know they had, or, as is often the case, that you can provide a better solution than what they currently have.